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5 Minutes With Bard Papegaaij

20th Oct 2014


Bard has almost 30 years of experience in the IT industry, undertaking a diverse array of roles ranging from Al research and software engineering to Enterprise Architecture and IT Management. In his current position as Research Director at Gartner, he dedicates his time to assisting CIOs and other IT leaders from around the world using his holistic approach to work, giving these individuals and their organisations everything that they need to reach their full potential, including setting and executing successful IT strategies, improving communication skills and emotional intelligence.

Bard’s major areas of focus however, lie in the development of leadership skills to implement positive cultural change and create motivated, engaged and resilient work forces, particularly in response to the powerfully disruptive effects of the digitalisation of the Enterprise landscape.

We were fortunate enough to have Bard take some time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions about these topics and more and I think you’ll agree that Bard makes for a great interviewee! 

What recent innovations or technological disruptions have impacted the IT industry?

In the last few years we have seen a number of developments come together, build on each other, and multiply their combined disruptive effect. Gartner called this the "Nexus of Forces", identified as Cloud, Social, Mobile, and Information (or Big Data). In a nutshell this means that world class IT is available to everyone, everywhere, anytime; that information is created, shared, collected, and used in volumes and speeds that have never before been possible; and that networked individuals, not corporations, drive the usage and development of IT. Add to this the rapidly emerging Internet of Everything, where People, Things, and Business are all intimately, continuously, and directly linked to each other, and you get the onset of the Digital Era: where everything is either completely digital or intimately connected to its digital representation.

This new world is causing significant shifts in the IT industry: consumers and end-users are driving a large portion of IT spend; Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trends force corporate IT to open up their environment for IT not managed by them; up to 35% of business investment in IT is now done outside of the IT department; the creation of shadow IT is now easier and to many more attractive than ever. For the major IT suppliers the new world means shifting from selling to IT departments to  selling to business leaders and end-users, which requires a re-think of their sales and marketing strategies.

The Digital Era changes things faster and more furious than ever before and the IT industry, especially corporate IT, struggles with changing from being focused on solid, reliable, efficiency-first, slow-but-steady IT development to fast, experimental, effectiveness-first, continuous, fast-and-less-than-perfect IT innovation. At the same time businesses are facing fundamental challenges to their business models, with competition coming from all directions, very often from players previously unknown or completely outside their own industry, and user expectations and loyalties shifting on a daily basis. Business needs to tap into all the new possibilities the Digital Era offers, but both business and IT are struggling to learn how to do this. This is a completely new playing field, and a lot of the old rules don't seem to apply.

What does research show about how audiences or markets adopt technology and how equipped are leaders to access and act on this intelligence?

What Gartner’s research clearly shows is how innovation and disruption of both business and IT are no longer driven by the big players, the established businesses, and the corporate IT organisation, but are increasingly in the hands of switched-on individuals, start-ups, and shifting networks of opportunistic alliances. Adoption of new technologies often starts with experiments, beta-releases, tentative kick-start-like ideas that can suddenly take off when they become a trend on the Internet. Because we are all connected almost all of the time, when a trend hits a critical threshold it can spread extremely fast and in unexpected, serendipitous ways. In this new and uncertain world experimentation, rather than deep market research and meticulous planning, seems to be the way innovation happens. One characteristic of experiments is that they will fail more often than they succeed, which is hard to accept for a business world that is used to demand Return-On-Investment on a project-by-project basis.

One interesting development Gartner research has identified in recent years is that corporate IT seems to be caught between two opposing forces: the business demand for reliable, cost-effective, and predictable IT systems, and the ever growing business demand for innovation and new ways of tapping into the business potential of IT in the Digital Era. Rather than just pointing out these conflicting demands to our clients, Gartner has developed frameworks and approaches to dealing with this 'split-personality' problem IT is facing, and is publishing a lot of research on how to successfully create 'bimodal' IT: supplying both the rock-solid foundation as well as the liquid innovation demanded by the business.

Many IT and business leaders are struggling to come to terms with this bimodal reality, and we see it as part of our work to help them transform not just their organizations but also their own roles and responsibilities to successfully navigate this deep change in the world they operate in.

I personally belief many leaders need to take a good look at the new realities, their position in relation to all the changes that are happening. They need to examine their own assumptions, habits, and beliefs as leaders, and make choices - hard choices - about who they want to be in this new era, and how they want to lead, support, and encourage the business transformation necessary to come out on top. Just doing what they have always done will not work. Leadership change is a necessary part of the transformation, which can be a very personal challenge for the leaders caught in the midst of it  

What do you see are the main challenges leaders face in this era of digital disruption?

The first challenge is to realise and acknowledge that these disruptions are pervasive and profound. Ignoring them and hoping they won't affect your particular line of business, your work environment, or your position is dangerously naive. Yet, when you are caught up in the day-to-day running of your business, and have your hands more than full with planning, executing, and managing your current work, it is not easy to stop, take stock, and really let the extent of these disruptions sink in.

When you do let it sink in, the next challenge is to decide on a way forward. Since so much is changing, you cannot rely on what worked in the past. Finding truly new ways to move forward will require the courage to experiment, go out on a limb, and take risks you would have avoided in the past.

The third challenge is to dare to cannibalise your own business successes. However tempting it may be to grow and refine your existing revenue streams, this can easily lead you to get more and more entrenched, until new competition catches you by surprise and you do not have the agility, creativity, and capacity to respond. The philosophy behind this is that it is better to disrupt your business yourself than to wait for someone else to do it for you.

What can leaders do to be successful in the new era of digital business?

Leaders need to actively work on changing the culture of their organisations. Every aspect of the business needs to challenged and critically examined. The question “if we were not held back by our legacy, would we do things differently?” should be on everybody’s mind.

Successful leaders will learn to let go of old management styles and hierarchical structures and adopt a cell-based, networked, and largely self-configuring approach to collaboration. Their role will change from command, control, and supervise large static departments, to inspire, empower, and enable networks of small autonomous units.

Digital leaders need to become digital humanists, putting people firmly in the centre of their mission. Technology needs to serve and empower people, not enslave them. Technology needs to adapt to how people behave and interact, not force people to limit themselves to the rules and limitations of the technology.

What does the future look like for leaders in 2020?

If we get the digital revolution right, we could be entering a new era of human empowerment, where technology supports us in reaching our highest potential. In that scenario, leaders will be ‘servant leaders’: inspiring their followers with visions of the future, and actively supporting them by giving them the means to achieve great things, and removing obstacles to reaching their goals.

If we get it wrong, we may end up in a world where most people have been made redundant and unnecessary. Where machines do almost everything humans used to do, including most knowledge work and management tasks. In that case, we may not have many leaders left: only machine-operators serving the machine universe we have allowed to come into existence.

Personally, I see it as the role of all true leaders to help us achieve scenario 1. After all, if technology is not used to create a better world for people to live in, why even bother? Machines don’t need a better world – they don’t feel the difference – but people do. True leaders make a distinction between what we can do and what we should do: pushing technology for its own sake, or pushing it for people’s sake; serving the system versus serving humanity.

I think these are challenging times for leaders everywhere: challenging and full of opportunities. When things change as fast and fundamentally as they do at the moment there is a window of opportunity to create something truly new and better. To do this we must raise our awareness, take responsibility for the future, and consider the consequences of our actions.

What is your favourite local food?

That one is easy: I travel so much and eat out so often that there is nothing I love more than fresh, home-cooked food with herbs, spices and vegetables grown in our own garden.

Where is your favourite place to travel?

I love going to India: it’s chaotic and challenging, but full of energy and possibilities, and I love talking to our clients there. In Australia my favourite place at the moment is our own backyard: D’Aguilar National Park just outside Brisbane: I love the rainforests, creeks, and mountains of that whole region.